Turn Your Old-school CRT Into A YouTube Media Player

Ever wish you could enjoy modern conveniences like YouTube in a retro world of CRTs and late 20th century graphics?

[Johannes Spreitzer] happened to find an old VIENNASTAR CRT (cathode-ray tube television) made by the Austrian brand Kapsh at a flea market. The CRT dates back to 1977 and uses just RF input, making it useless as a modern television set since most TV stations nowadays broadcast primarily in digital.

However, HDMI-to-RF transmitters do exist, making it possible to convert HDMI signals to RF or coaxial cable output to replace an antenna signal. What [Spreitzer] did next was to plug in a Chromcast and essentially convert the CRT into an old-school monitor. You can see some of the trippy graphics in the video below – the video samples shown fit the retro aesthetic, but I’m sure there’s video combinations that would seem pretty out of place.

HDMI-to-RF adapters are pretty easy to pick up at a hardware store, and they allow you to project videos onto specific channels on a CRT. Needless to say, they don’t work the other way around, although since there are still televisions that only pick up RF broadcasts, coaxial to HDMI adapters do exist.

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Turning Old Toggle Switches Into Retro-Tech Showpieces

While those of us in the hacking community usually focus on making new things, there’s plenty to be said for restoring old stuff. Finding a piece of hardware and making it look and work like new can be immensely satisfying, and dozens of YouTube channels and blogs exist merely to feed the need for more restoration content.

The aptly named [Switch and Lever] has been riding the retro wave for a while, and his video on restoring and repairing vintage toggle switches shows that he has picked up a trick or two worth sharing. The switches are all flea market finds, chunky beasts that have all seen better days. But old parts were built to last, and they proved sturdy enough to withstand the first step in any restoration: disassembly. Most of the switches were easily pried open, but a couple needed rivets drilled out first. The ensuing cleaning and polishing steps were pretty basic, although we liked the tips about the micromesh abrasives and the polishing compound. Another great tip was using phenolic resin PCBs as repair material for broken Bakelite bodies; they’re chemically similar, and while they may not match the original exactly, they make for a great repair when teamed up with CA glue and baking soda as a filler.

3D-printed repairs would work too, but there’s something satisfying about keeping things historically consistent. Celebrating engineering history is really what restorations like these are all about, after all. And even if you’re building something new, you can make it look retro cool with these acid-etched brass plaques that [Switch and Lever] also makes.

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Entombed Secrets Partially Unearthed As Researchers Dissect Clever Maze-Generating Algorithm

If you look at enough of another developer’s code, you will eventually say, “What were you thinking, you gosh-darn lunatic?” Now, this exchange can precede the moment where you quit a company and check into a padded room, or it can be akin to calling someone a mad genius and offering them a beer. In the case of [Steven Sidley]’s 1982 game Entombed, [John Aycock] and [Tara Copplestone] found a mysterious table for generating pseudo-random mazes and wrote a whitepaper on how it all works (PDF). The table only generates solvable mazes, but if any bits are changed, the puzzles become inescapable.

The software archaeologists are currently in a labyrinth of their own, in which the exit is an explanation of the table, but the path is overgrown with decade-old vines. The programmer did not make the table himself, and its creator’s name is buried somewhere in the maze. Game cart storage was desperately limited so mazes had to be generated on-the-fly rather than crafted and stored. Entombed‘s ad-hoc method worked by assessing the previous row and generating the next based on particular criteria, with some PRNG in places to keep it fresh. To save more space, the screen was mirrored down the center which doubles the workload of the table. Someday this mysterious table’s origins may be explained but for now, it is a work of art in its own right.

Aside from a table pulled directly from the aether, this maze game leaned on pseudo-random numbers but there is room for improvement in that regard too.

Via BBC Future.

Odd-Sized Military Headphone Connectors, Tamed!

Military headphones, at least the older ones, are like few other sound reproducers. They are an expression of function over form, with an emphasis on robustness over operator comfort. Electrically they most often have high-impedance drivers and annoyingly proprietary connectors for whichever obscure radio system they were a part of.

[John Floren] has a HS-16A headset, the type used by the US military during the Vietnam war. It’s an antiquated design with a dual spring steel headband and on-the-ear ‘phones with no muff for comfort, and a quick bit of research finds that they can be had brand new in their 1960s packaging for somewhere around $20. Their connector is a pair of odd metal pins, and rather than doing what most of us would do and snipping the wire to fit something more useful, he hunted high and low for a TE Connectivity receptacle that would fit them. A short extension and a jack plug allowed him to use these slightly unusual cans.

This isn’t a special hack, but it’s still an interesting read because it sheds a bit of light upon these old-style headphones and reveals that they’re still available for anyone who wants their radio operating to have a retro feel. If you buy a set, you’ll probably still have them decades after more modern pairs have bitten the dust.

Modern Linux Runs On Ancient Toshiba

While Microsoft no longer supports those of its operating systems that were in heavy use into the early 2000s, support for old hardware is not typically something that you will have to worry about if you run Linux on your machines. Sure, there will be driver issues from time to time, and you might have to do some things by hand, but if you’re using legacy hardware you’ll want a Linux distribution of some sort. Especially if you’re running it on one of the first laptops to ever feature a Pentium processor of any kind.

This is a Toshiba T4900CT which [MingcongBai] has been able to spruce up by installing a simplified version of the AOSC OS Linux distribution. The distribution is known for its simplified user interface, and this particular one runs a “Retro” command-line-only version. Upon startup (which takes over two minutes), the user can view the hardware and software specs: Linux kernel 4.19.67 (released within the past year) on a 75 MHz Intel processor.

Getting old equipment to work, even if the software is available, is a challenge and this one stands out for the historical noteworthiness of the laptop. We didn’t see it connect to the Internet, but if it ever does we still keep Retro Hackaday up specifically for situations like this.

You Need A Cyberdeck, This Board Will Help

In 1984, William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer helped kick off the cyberpunk genre that many hackers have been delighting in ever since. Years before Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, Gibson was imagining worldwide computer networks and omnipresent artificial intelligence. One of his most famous fictional creations is the cyberdeck, a powerful mobile computer that allowed its users to navigate the global net; though today we might just call them smartphones.

While we might have the functional equivalent in our pockets, hackers like [Tillo] have been working on building cyberdecks that look a bit more in line with what fans of Neuromancer imagined the hardware would be like. His project is hardly the first, but what’s particularly notable here is that he’s trying to make it easier for others to follow in his footsteps.

There’s a trend to base DIY cyberdecks on 1980s vintage computer hardware, with the logic being that it would be closer to what Gibson had in mind at the time. Equally important, the brutalist angular designs of some of those early computers not only look a lot cooler than anything we’ve got today, but offer cavernous internal volume ripe for a modern hardware transfusion. Often powered by the Raspberry Pi, featuring a relatively small LCD, and packed full of rechargeable batteries, these cyberdecks make mobile what was once anchored to a desk and television.

[Tillo] based his cyberdeck on what’s left of a Commodore C64c, reusing the original keyboard for that vintage feel. That meant he needed to adapt the keyboard to something the Raspberry Pi could understand, for which some commercially available options existed already. But why not take the idea farther for those looking to create their own C64c cyberdecks?

He’s currently working on a new PCB specifically designed for retrofitting one of these classic machines with a Raspberry Pi. The board includes niceties like a USB hub, and should fill out some of those gaping holes left in the case once you remove the original electronics. [Tillo] has already sent the first version of his open source board out for fabrication, so hopefully we’ll get an update soon.

In the meantime, you might want to check out some of the other fantastic cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple of years.

Giving The Amstrad CPC A Voice And A Drum Kit

Back in the ’80s, home computers weren’t capable of much in terms of audio or multimedia as a whole. Arguably, it wasn’t until the advent of 16-bit computers such as the Amiga that musicians could make soundtrack-quality music without having to plug actual studio gear up to their machines. [Michael Wessel] is trying to bring some of that and many more features to the Amstrad CPC with his ambitious LambdaSpeak 3 project, an expansion card built completely up from scratch and jam-packed with features.

First, and likely giving it its name, is the speech synthesizer. [Michael] has made an emulation mode where his card can act just like the original SSA-1 expansion, being able to be controlled by the same software as back then. By default, the card offers this mode with an Epson S1V30120 daughterboard (which is based on DECTalk synthesis), however for further authenticity you also have the option of fitting it with an SP0256-AL2 chip, the same one used in the original Amstrad hardware in 1985.

As for the more musical part of the project, the board supports 4-channel PCM playback, much like the Amiga’s sound offering. This can be used for a drum machine sequencer program, and it has an Amdrum mode, emulating another expansion from the original Amstrad days. Sample playback can also be used alongside the speech synthesis as shown here, with random allophone beats that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kraftwerk recording. Finally, by using the UART interface included on the LambdaSpeak, you can also turn the CPC itself into a synth by giving it MIDI in/out and interfacing a controller in real time with the computer’s AY-3-8912 sound chip.

If you like modern expansions giving old computers new life, did you know that you can get just about any retro computer online, perhaps a TRS-80, an Amiga and even a Psion Organizer? And if you’re interested in just using old systems’ sound chips with modern USB MIDI controllers, it’s easy to make a microcontroller do all the heavy lifting.

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